Putting up with community

Romans 15:1-13

It happened again. Sitting at a stop light that seems to be permanently stuck on red while some yahoo in a car one or two places back or maybe to the side has his radio blasting with sufficient force to penetrate my vehicle with the windows up and the radio playing Mozart. It jangles my last nerve, and it happens at home too. A car half a block away starts my windows to rattling like a minor earthquake before finally resuming relatively peaceful quiet when it reaches and passes the half-block mark in the opposite direction. I know we have a constitutionally mandated right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but why must my happiness be infringed upon by someone else’s pursuit? Oh, I could probably retaliate — maybe play the 1812 Overture at a volume that would make my ears bleed (love those cannons and carillon) or perhaps Buddhist chants with those basso profundo notes played at maximum volume and reverberation might be better —

We all have to put up with stuff, things that bug, bother, irritate, aggravate, and a lot of other similar verbs. It’s part of being in community with other people. There’s supposed to be some give-and-take, even if sometimes it feels like all give and no take, but that’s life, isn’t it? Even Paul mentions that we have to “put up with the failings” of others, even though he is talking about matters of faith rather than car stereos.

Community living is tricky, whether in the neighborhood or in the church. There are strong people and there are weaker ones. Strong ones often set the pace and the direction and often the weaker voices are left unheard. Paul’s words offer encouragement to the strong to encourage the weak, to build a strong community by mutual love and support. I wonder what would happen if we did that today?

I think about my neighborhood where I grew up where everybody knew everybody else, knew who was sick, who was in need, who to go to when something needed fixing. People helped each other and everybody took part. I look at the neighborhoods I have lived in recently, ones where I didn’t even know the next-door neighbor’s name much less feel able to count on them for anything. It’s a different world now and I think it’s a worse one. Even in churches it’s sometimes easier to find strong people (or perhaps wealthy ones) controlling things while those who need support and encouragement are left to straggle along or quietly leave to search for a more nurturing place.

I wonder what sort of letter Paul would write to our communities now? What would he think of our worship of the I, individualism and individual rights? Idolatry perhaps? That’s another I word, and one that Paul may have used to describe the modern emphasis of the individual rather than the community.

So what can I do about it? What am I willing to do about it? I try to live peacefully with my neighbors and the people I work with, I try to be encouraging when it feels like someone needs a few good words, try to see where help is needed and give what aid I can. I fall short a lot too, and there are times when I need support and encouragement. It’s funny — Paul talks about strong and weak, but what just came to me is that inside each person or group who is strong and who is weak can change from minute to minute or day to day. Like that old saying about “Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant,” a person isn’t always stuck in the same role all the time. Since communities are made up of individuals, a community needs to be elastic enough to deal with both strong and weak, whoever is which at any given time. Sometimes the poorest person in the group can be the richest in everything but money, and the strongest can be the weakest spiritually and emotionally. In community each helps the other to be better. Sounds like a Jesus-thing to me.

What challenge lies ahead for me today, who needs me to be strong, who props up my weakness? I had better keep my eyes, ears and heart open because I’m sure something will come along. It isn’t all about me. It’s about community. I’ll have to remember that.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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